Nigel Clarke on fatherhood, parenting and setting up Dadvengers
Setting up Dadvengers…
Dadvengers came about because I was working at Cbeebies on The Baby Club, a program aimed at encouraging parents to go to baby groups. As a new parent, you may feel like you don’t want to go out, you might feel self-conscious, or like people will judge your parenting or how your baby is behaving. You might even feel like your appearance is not ready for the public! The reality is that baby groups can be really beneficial for parents, so it’s important that everyone feels welcome.
While flming The Baby Club we filmed an episode where all paticipants were dads, and there was a moment during the filming when everyone was a bit taken aback, because there was a different energy and feel. It was a special moment where everyone just stopped and said, there needs to be more of this. After that, I did some research and found that there just wasn’t much for men at the time. That’s when I started doing a couple of posts on my personal accounts that were focused on supporting dads and suddenly, here we are, two years later with our own website, community, and podcast. It’s really needed and has continued to grow from there.
At first, we were very information focused, but then lockdown threw the world into disarray, and I wanted to do something to help parents through that time. I thought, let’s do some chats on social media, just to research what people want to know, and a year later and they are still going every Friday. People watch them back and it feels like a community support group. Yes, we all need the important information to help with parenting, but sometimes you may just want to be around people who understand. We’ve got fitness groups where people compete on their steps, we did a Euro sweepstake, there’s even a Spotify playlist that we curate.
“People need a space where they can just be parents, but also when they do want to talk about something, they know that there is a space to share.”
Building a support network as a father
For dads, there is the stereotypical idea that you just get on with it. You must cope, survive, be the strong one, “man up” - all those phrases and sayings. But really and truly we are just human beings like everyone else. We need support and sometimes, because of the stereotypes, we don’t think we do. We don’t think we need to talk or hear other sides of the story. As parents we know it’s a hard job, so hearing from other dads, mums and a community of parents about their troubles and tribulations can really help get another perspective on things. This goes a long way to making you a better parent and giving you tools, because being a parent is all about having tools you can use.
I have a supportive family and group of friends, so when I became a dad, I did have support, but I don’t think I realised it at the time. There may be other people who don’t have grandparents to chip in, or friends round the corner, so it’s important to be aware of your network and know where you can find it. I didn’t realise at the time how beneficial it was.
“Being part of a community, you feel a connection with others going through the same thing. It can be really calming, to let you know – you’re not the only one going through this.”
Becoming a dad…
Everyone talks about ‘you’re going to lose out on some sleep’ and it’s true, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because you’re going to be immersed in this new world, a new way of life that is intense, but it gives back just as intensely in beautiful moments and memories. It’s not easy, it’s tough. There are ups and downs every day, things change every day, but it’s a beautiful thing.
With my kids, Rory and Sienna, I started taking charge of night feeds. I was working in the entertainment industry in the theatre, so my day started in the evening. I’d come home after doing a show and have adrenaline that stopped me sleeping, so I went for walks at night with the babies to get them to sleep. That was our bonding time. It’s important for dads to find bonding time as parents. Sometimes it’s difficult for a dad to figure out when he fits in, but however small they are, we need to find those moments. There’s no one size fits all – it’s all about your life, your schedule, your situation and figuring that out.
Self-care is a really big part of that process as well. If you’re not well, how will you look after a baby? For me, I shared things with my partner, and we worked as a team. We both got time to regroup and take a moment when we needed it. Parenting is an onslaught, you have to be responsible 24 hours a day. It’s important for your mental state to take time for yourself so you can go back into it again and again.
Teaching my kids about racism
Being a kids tv presenter I thought it would be hard breaking down difficult concepts to the simplest forms for children to understand. You know, like explaining why the days are longer in the summer than the winter. Now being a dad, one of the most challenging things is teaching my kids about racism. Being from a mixed heritage it’s something they are bound to experience. We need to give our kids the tools to go out into the world and there’s no age that’s too early to start addressing issues around racism. Even from around 6 months old, there are books out there that depict different people, there are also toys that are more inclusive, tv programmes, games, Podcasts. These things all start to normalise different races, learning and talking about them. Slowly but surely, nurseries, schools, and establishments are all learning that this is something that needs to be addressed. Raising awareness about it will help people to talk to their children. Talking with other parents, like we do at Dadvengers, is so important to help address these issues. There are so many more openly spoken about family dynamics, I think educating people on these and making people sensitive to them an important part being a parent.
The importance of seeking support after going through loss
When dads go through loss, the go to (it seems) is to block it out, whether that’s for months, weeks, or years they throw themselves into something else. From what I have seen, dealing with the grief and pain isn’t the go-to reaction. But the problem is, it comes back around in some way shape or form. Unfortunately, often it will be a breakdown, mentally or physically, and sometimes this can be after a long time. Trauma can flood back suddenly without expecting it, so ignoring it is not the way to go. Talking to people is the first point of call, it might be friends and family first, or a health professional, maybe it’s joining a community like Dadvengers. Bringing it up is the first step, from there people will help you. When you’re in pain, people want to help, and they will be able to signpost you to all the different avenues where you can receive help.
More info and support
You can find more support on the Dadvengers website and through their Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
You can also listen to the Dadvengers Podcast, where a variety of guests share their own intimate experiences; the highs, the lows, their triumphs and their failures.